Monday, September 26, 2016

Roku unveils all new streaming box line up starting as low as $29.99 and support for older TVs with composite cable output

After weeks of leaks about the new products, Roku has officially announced its new line of streaming media boxes.

Roku Express and Express w/ composite cable support

The Los Gatos, California-based company has effectively replaced all of its media streaming boxes with new hardware; its streaming video stick, announced earlier this year, remains the same. The new Roku Express box replaces the Roku 1 with a much smaller form factor (75 percent smaller) and double the processing power of the original box. It streams HD video, not 4K like the top-of-the-line Rokus do, but it also costs just $30, making it the most affordable Roku. There's also a version of the Express box that comes with composite cables, for an additional $10.

Roku Premiere and Premiere+

The mid-tier Premiere and Premiere+ Rokus replace the Roku 2 and Roku 3 boxes, respectively. The Roku Premiere will retail for $80 and supports 4K video at 60 frames per second (which helps smooth out the video when you're actually watching 4K video). It has a quad-core processor and comes with Roku's standard IR remote. The $100 Roku Premiere+ adds HDR support to the mix, along with an enhanced remote that includes Roku's "private listening" feature, aka a headphone jack. And the Premiere+ box itself has an Ethernet port and a microSD card slot.

Finally there's the Roku Ultra, which replaces the Roku 4, though the new pancake-style box looks quite similar to last year's box. This $130 streaming media player has many of the same features as the Premiere+ — it will stream both 4K and HDR video — but includes an even more advanced remote and a USB port on the box, allowing owners to plug in a thumb drive with their own media. The Ultra's remote is the only one that comes with the "Find My Remote" function, as well as A/B gaming buttons.

All of this new hardware will ship sometime in October. The boxes will be sold through Roku's own site and other retail partners, with the exception of the Roku Express+ (supports composite cables for older TV's), which will only be sold at Walmart.

Roku's software will also be getting an update, though it won't be as big of an update as the jump to Roku OS 7, which came out earlier this year. The new software has a "night listening" mode that compresses the audio levels of the video you're watching, so that loud music or harsh explosive sounds will more closely match the dialogue levels of the programming. Roku is also tweaking its search function to make it a little bit easier to find all of the stuff you could possibly want to watch out of more than — wait for it — the 3,500 channels the Roku currently has. The software update is free and will roll out to all Rokus.

In terms of Roku's competition in "OTT" devices, it's hard to know exactly who is winning the streaming video game right now, especially when companies like Amazon don't release unit sales numbers and Apple puts out its Apple TV numbers intermittently. Data from NPD earlier this year suggest that game consoles are dominating the streaming market, with boxes like Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV close behind.

However at least two research firms have reported that Roku is leading the race in the OTT market: Parks Associates said earlier this year that Roku accounted for 30 percent of streaming media players purchased in the US from the first quarter of 2015 to the same quarter this year; while comScore recently reported that Roku has 49 percent of household market share, with Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Google's Chromecast making up the share of the rest.

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